After the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, T’Challa [Chadwick Boseman] returns home to the hidden, isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king and the mantle of Black Panther. But when a powerful old enemy reappears, T’Challa’s valor as king and Panther, is tested as he is drawn into a formidable conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people and their way of life. –Disney/Marvel Studios
“Marvel films take you on a ride. I hope audiences have a great ride, and walk out engaged and inspired as well,” says Director Ryan Coogler.
“...I wanted Wakanda
to be current, to be of this world, tactile and real, so much so that people want to go there after the film is done...”
As fantastical as the world of Wakanda
is, the entire production team made certain that the spiritual, the mystical and the technological influences in the country’s culture were still anchored in the real world and that the outside world was definitively portrayed. To ensure both fantastical and real, Coogler relied on his longtime collaboration with Production Designer Hannah Beachler, who brought on estimable Set Decorator Jay Hart SDSA. Their teams working in sync with Director of Photography Rachel Morrison ASC, Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter and their crews, along with visual and special effects departments, elevated the Marvel superhero universe and literally millions of moviegoers’ experience.
SET DECOR caught up with Hart, as he was working in Bogota and Hawaii on his next feature film, for an insider perspective on this global phenomenon.
The challenge with BLACK PANTHER was to be vigilant about introducing a new chapter to the Marvel Universe. I was very focused on how we would present these characters as we were laying the groundwork for films following ours. Wakanda
as a character in the film was front and center on all of our minds.
We did a deep dive on the History of Wakanda
and what that was and how it evolved over time hidden from, but in tandem with, the rest of the world. PD Hannah Beachler did a printed timeline showing how Wakandan
society evolved and surpassed the world. When the Earth’s societies were in the Industrial Revolution, Wakanda
had highly technical communications and advanced transit and art and agriculture—all based on the introduction of Vibranium
and a people smart enough to know how to develop and use it, a monarchy-based government with a long and regal and proud history. The original comic book gave us some of this, however, we had to fill in the blanks so we would have a full picture of who these characters were and where they came from.
The directive from the Director and the PD was that we be absolutely true to African Culture. We researched various African tribes and identified those that we felt had visuals that worked with our perception of the Wakandans
. We designed our own fabrics and furniture and lighting and built it all in our own Set Decorating Shop. I was continually grateful and awestruck at the capabilities and creative input I got from my entire team. This was a large film and I had to rely heavily on my team, John Naehrlich, Brock Helfer, Mick Cummings, Kevin Kropp, J.R. Vasquez, Ely Veigh, Nicole Eldridge, Kenji Kondo, Dan Foster, Mark Hudson, Eric West, April Labranche, Jack Cornelius and many more... too many to mention.
The creation of Wakanda
was exciting and scary at the same time. I felt a lot of responsibility to get it right, especially as all the fans of the comic book would be picking through it with a fine-tooth comb, When I was in doubt, my default design decision was to rely on African History and draw from that.
Example of incorporation of African history...
[Editor’s note: See photo captions above for more details...]
...i.e. an ancient Nigerian script from the 5th century written on the metal columns in the Tribal Council/Royal Throne Room...
alphabet took some time to develop. Hannah actually used a hybrid of 3 different scripts to develop the Wakandan
idiom. The set dec obligation was to use it in the appropriate places. As simple as labels on the Talon Flyer
cargo to the Royal Seal in the royal apartments (cut from the film). It almost took on a kind of modern art vibe. Its use in the credits was really wonderful.
...with Production Designer Hannah Beachler...
Hannah spent some time as a set decorator so she brought an innate understanding of what we do. This was very refreshing and when she realized that we had the ability to design and build/fabricate, we became joined at the hip.
She definitely wanted a sophisticated non-cartoonish style. She and Ryan wanted to represent Wakanda
as an old and proud, intelligent and sophisticated place. We spent a lot of time talking about what made Wakanda
different. The fact that it had avoided colonization was a story point that we tried to drive home. We wanted to imprint a personality on the Wakandan
civilization. This was most evident in Step Town
, the “old city” area where the hip Wakandan
went to dine and hang. That was a really fun set for all because we could flex a little creative muscle. Hannah’s use of graffiti was extraordinary.
...with Director Ryan Coogler...
Ryan Coogler is at the end of the day a storyteller. He was laser-focused on how we all were presenting the characters and unveiling Wakanda
Having written part of the script, he had a really good grasp on what made the characters tick.
He would from time to time come to us with specific requests. T’Challa’s
throne in the Tribal Council Royal Throne Room
was a last minute addition. Ryan kept clinging to the idea that Panther
would not have a throne, that he would be the same level as the other tribal council leaders. However, two weeks prior to shooting the throne room, he decided that Panther
should have a throne. So I did a napkin drawing, walked it into the Set Dec shop and a week later we had Panther’s
throne...and it ended up being key in the one-sheet and the trailers.
Ryan and Hannah having worked together so much really relied on each other during PANTHER. They had meetings and conversations every day. He sought out her opinions and leaned heavily on her vision of Wakanda
and the characters. Most of the creative vision for the film was filtered thru Hannah. Ryan, Hannah, and I would have meetings where we discussed the set dressing and its backstory and what each of the sets was saying about Wakanda
. He often would ask for something specific. But at the end of the day it was that synchronization of Ryan’s/Hannah’s vision that we keyed off of.
Ryan, apart from being a super storyteller and creative, was also a really kind human being, and working with him was great.
...with Costume Designer Ruth Carter...
Ruth’s designs were truly breathtaking. We worked in collaboration on color, but the palettes were part of the overall production design of the film. We definitely used the palettes in our work and how we chose color and finishes for the sets and ships, etc. We also went to great lengths to create sigils and identifiable seals and symbols generic to each tribe.
...with Director of Photography Rachel Morrison...
We collaborated quite a bit with Rachel. We were very, very involved with how the sets were lit, as much of it was practical light fixtures. She had a color arc that she wanted to use for the film employing color temperatures to convey different moods in different environments. Phil Abeyta, the fixtures foreman was just a rock star. He made everything work and we threw a lot of stuff at him.
Which exactly describes my whole team and gives a window into how dedicated and creative everyone on this film was.